This is what you might expect a new plant to look like when you remove it from a thin plastic container. But look closely and you’ll see it has a few cuts on the side, from my hori-hori blade. These roots were so dense that I had to rip the container off of them, and still I couldn’t pry them loose. This deer fern was snug.

Here’s another one, which I purchased at the same time a few weeks ago. They were on sale (~$5), so I grabbed a couple to add to the area I described in this post. Both plants have been waiting in their spots for me to dig a hole, and I thought maybe they were just dry despite the recent rain. But the one on the right acted as I’d expected. After a few cuts it popped open, the soil crumbled away, and the roots were ready to go.

Usually, I loosen new plants to the extent that they’re almost bare root. If there’s any risk in doing that, I feel like it’s worth it so that I can learn about the root system and help it grow the way it should. Others might see the plant on the left as fine, roughen the sides slightly, and drop the block in.

And that’s what I ultimately had to do. After plenty of water and wiggling, the matted roots wouldn’t budge. I suspect both plants will be content in their new setting, like my other deer ferns. I’ll resist the temptation to dig them up next year and compare their legs.

Blechnum spicant under Mahonia nervosa